7 Books to add to your Father’s Day TBR

“Sometimes I think my papa is an accordion. When he looks at me and smiles and breathes, I hear the notes.”- The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Do you not think at times, that fatherhood is often neglected as compared to motherhood? The presence of a father in a child’s life is seen as a figure who leads the household, although this notion is gradually changing. His absence from the daily life of a child often brings in a distance between him and the child. But, the little values, discussions, debates, morals- consciously or unconsciously -instilled into the child by him, remains forever. This is beautifully reflected through literature which has seen some amazing father figures- whether it be the idealist from To Kill a Mocking Bird to the classic relation in The Book Thief or just memories of a father in the Harry Potter Series, one gets to see the different shades of fathers through literature. Ahead of Father’s Day, I type-down some of my all-time favorites which you might want to add to your TBR lists.

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Finding Chika by Mitch Albom: A heart-touching memoir of Albom’s adopted daughter Chika. Albom pens down his journey as a father and how his daughter completes the vacuum in his family. He writes about how the presence of Chika changes him and gives birth to the father in him who is able to accept the new responsibilities which develop while embracing fatherhood. Their journey over the days and the lessons learned from each other makes it worth a Father’s Day Read!

Read the full review here

Publisher: Sphere, Hachette

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

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The Man with Many Hats by Jael Silliman: Every individual has shades to his/ her personality and so does Morris. He is exuberant, illustrious, and tempestuous in nature. The Man with Many Hats marks the debut of Jael Silliman who beautifully explores the father-daughter relationship within the constraints of the disappearing Jewish community from the Kolkata society.

Purchase: Amazon 

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Tape by Steven Camden: Tapes are extinct! Isn’t that what comes to your mind when you hear about Tapes? But what happens when voices, especially of those no longer around, speak to you from Tapes. A story of love and loss, surpassing the time vortex, engage the readers in this novel by Camden. The narration fluctuates between the present and the past and instills knowledge and morals of the past to the present linking it through a Tape.

Read the full review here

Publisher: Harper Collins

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

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Letters from a Father to his Daughter by Jawaharlal Nehru: For once, alienate politics from the life of the Nehrus and look at them as a father and a daughter. A series of letters written to Indira by her father took the form of an illustrated book years later- a book, which most children love to read. Nehru had always been compassionate towards children and thus, his writings are simple yet knowledgeable for every child and not only for his daughter alone. He traces the history, geography, coming of Neanderthals, race, and language, and more through his letters.

Publisher: Puffin, Penguin Random House

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

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How to Stop Time by Matt Haig:  An unthinkable story of a man who lives on for centuries in search of his only child, who is genetically similar to him. His search takes him to the streets of Elizabethan England, to the Jazz –age Paris, from New York to Australia- he sees it all. Does he ever find his child? Is it worth living with the burden of centuries? How does it feel to change identities and lose dear ones every few years – only so that you can survive the world? This book answers it all!

Publisher: Canon Gate, Penguin Random House

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

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Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel: I had picked up Hotel Vendome years ago after I had freshly recovered from the emotional jolt (in a good way) Sankar’s Chowringhee had left in me. Steel’s novel is so much similar to the latter’s novel. Growing up in a hotel, understanding its nuances, seeing the myriad hues of guests seeking accommodation, is a world on its own. It is interesting to see how Steel marks the development of a family inspired by and within the four walls of Hotel Vendome, their permanent home.

Publisher: Corgi, Penguin Random House

Purchase: Amazon / Flipkart

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11 Sensational Books to add to your TBR List

With the country aiming for a smooth unlocking, book lovers have begun their book-hunting.  From heart-warming rom-com to twisty thrillers, the publishing calendar is filled with exciting new titles that bibliophiles are eagerly waiting for. Be it fiction or non-fiction, books would leave you spoilt for choices. Pre-order, order or bookmark the below list of best books to read in the upcoming days. We are keeping our eyes open for 11 sensational books to add to your TBR list!

1. Cleanness by Garth Greenwell

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First on the list comes a book in harmony with Pride Month!  Cleanness, a much-anticipated book by Garth Greenwell, opens up to the narrator meeting a student in a cafe. The narrator is an American high school literature teacher in Bulgaria. The student is gay and struggles with his desires in a community where homosexuality is still not accepted. Cleanness thrums with life and invites its readers to a state of high intensity. The readers are sure to be moved by the story as they begin to understand the possibility of living life differently.

Released in January 2020

Purchase: Amazon/ Flipkart

Publisher: Picador, Pan Macmillan

2. Deacon King Kong by James McBride

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The year is 1969 and the South Brooklyn neighborhood is shaken up by unexpected violence- a local drug dealer is shot by a shabby deacon. Deacon King Kong revolves around the repercussions of the shooting from different perspectives- the dealer, the members of the neighborhood, the witnesses, as well as the deacon’s parish. James McBride’s Deacon King Kong can be considered as a feverish love letter to the people and the writing industry. It is a plethora of events, lives, times as well as conversations. It is a book that is full of humor and compassion. The narrative is about the poor and flawed people who are trying to navigate an ugly and racist world with the help of their God, each other, as well as the bottle! The stories of these people are unique and universal at the same time.

Released in March 2020

Purchase: Amazon 

Publisher: Transworld Publishers, Penguin Random House

3. The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

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The Mirror & the Light is the successful conclusion to the trilogy which Hilary Mantel begins with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces back the final years of Thomas Cromwell, a boy from nowhere who had climbed to power while offering a portrait of prey and predator. Mantel’s The Mirror & the Light also talks about a ferocious contest between the past and present, and between the royal will, to the vision of a common man, making way through passion, conflict, and courage. The novel brings the high-intensity action and drama that are much looked forward to by historical fiction lovers. The storyline brings to life Tudor England brilliantly, with its magnificent courts, jousts, costumes, and pomp along with the underbelly and back alleys of London.

Released in March 2020

Purchase: Amazon/ Flipkart

Publisher: 4th Estate, Harper Collins

4. Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

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After 15 years, Julia Alvarez has returned with a dynamic novel that explores the changing notions of a family. In Afterlife, Alvarez tells the story of Antonio, a retired professor. Antonio’s life is turned upside down by the death of her husband as well as the appearance of a pregnant teenager at her doorstep.  Alvarez outlines the contours of private moral decisions that replicate our national conversation which prevents migrant communities from claiming their contributions to the country. Afterlife is a nimble, compact, and sharp novel that is set in the political moment of distrust and tribalism, talking about what we owe to those in crisis and how one can live in a broken world without losing faith in one another.

Released in April 2020

Purchase: Amazon

Publisher: Algonquin Books

5. The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

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The Lying Life of Adults tells a story about Giovanna, a teenager whose contradictions and transformations are matched by that of the city. Giovanna is searching for the true reflection of herself in two kindred cities that detest and fear one another: The Naples of Depths which is a place of vulgarity, and the Naples of Heights, that takes a mask of refinement. She keeps moving between these two cities and is disoriented by the fact that neither of these cities seems to offer an escape or answers. Elena Ferrante has been named as one of the most influential people of 2016 by TIME Magazine. She is also frequently lauded as a future Nobel Prize-winner. Ferrante has become one of the most acclaimed writers of the twenty-first century. In The Lying Life of Adults, readers would find a highly addictive, gripping, and unforgettable Neopolitan story, and don’t forget to keep your eyes on Netflix as it will soon come on-screen.

Released in May 2020

Purchase: Amazon

Publisher: Europa Editions

6. The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton

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John Bolton served as the National Security Advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump for 519 days. Bolton was a seasoned public servant who had also formerly worked for Presidents Bush Senior, Bush Junior, and Ronald Reagan. Bolton has about thirty years of experience in handling international issues as well as a reputation for blunt and tough talk.

In The Room Where It Happened, he offers a factual and substantive account of his time in the administration which contains an explosive anecdote stating that the President wanted to continue freezing millions of dollars to aid Ukraine till the officials agreed to investigate on Biden as well as other Democrats. Bolton’s account contradicts the statement of the president’s lawyers, and he faces removal from the office. This memoir has a string of political tell-all, which includes “A Warning,” by an anonymous White House official.

Released in May 2020

Purchase: Amazon

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

7. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

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The protagonist of Sittenfeld’s new novel, Rodham, is Hillary Rodham and what her life would have been had she refused to marry Bill Clinton. In Rodham, Hillary’s early life is the same, be it the upbringing in suburbs, studying at Wellesley College, or attending a law school at Yale. She also meets Bill who is charming, unfaithful and has assault allegations against him. However, in Rodham, the story changes: Hillary Rodham leaves. Rodham is a moving, nauseating, morally suggestive, and a technically brilliant book that makes the readers think about the aims and limits of fiction. Rodham cannot be called fan-fiction; however, there is a steaminess in reading it, which satisfies the impulse of grief or fantasy.

Released in May 2020 

Purchase: Amazon/ Flipkart 

Publisher: Penguin Random House

8. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes narrates the 10th Hunger Games in which the Academy students had been paired with tributes as their “mentors”. The story is about Coryo who is desperate to take advantage of the situation while hiding his poverty from other class members. He believes that his charm is his main “real currency”. In The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins narrates how Coryo needs to negotiate with the neglectful and hostile authority figures. She creates a prequel that is taking place in Panem, roughly 60 years before “The Hunger Games.” This is a part of Collins’s best-selling trilogy that has ushered a new phase in the Y.A. literature, earning the interest of both young as well as adult readers.

Released in May 2020

Purchase: Amazon/ Flipkart 

Publisher: Scholastic US

9. Malorie by Josh Malerman

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Malorie is a sequel to the successful Bird Box. Malerman brings the story of Sandra Bullock, a blindfold character who is led through a near-future apocalypse with the help of the trained ears of her children. This has become synonymous with the latest generation of horror stories. Malorie by Josh Malerman gained popularity after it was introduced to Netflix as a movie starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich.  Malorie is expected to be an exciting story that would entertain its readers a lot. We may even get another Netflix movie considering the initial success of the first part.

Expected to Release in July 2020

Purchase: Amazon

Publisher: Orion, Hachette

10. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

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Gifty, a sixth-year Ph.D. student of neuroscience at Stanford University is studying the reward-seeking behavior of mice as well as the neural circuit of addiction and depression. Her brother, Nana, used to be a gifted high school athlete. He died because of a heroin overdose after an injury on his ankle left him dependent on OxyContin. Gifty’s suicidal mother is living on her bed making her all the more committed to discovering the scientific basis about the suffering that she sees around her. The Transcendent Kingdom is a touching story about the family of Ghanaian immigrants that were ravaged by addiction and depression. This grief-stuck novel is all about faith, religion, science, and love. Emotionally searing and exquisitely written, this is a powerful follow-up to Yaa Gyasi’s phenomenal debut.

Expected to Release in March  2021

Purchase: Amazon 

Publisher: Penguin Random House

11. Untitled by Chelsea Manning

Untitled is a story of a former Army intelligence analyst, Chelsea Manning who was jailed for sharing classified information with WikiLeaks. She calls this memoir a coming-of-the-age story that outlines the factors that led her to leak those files, her jail experiences, and ultimately why she lost faith in the government. In Untitled, Manning talks about how her pleas for increased government accountability and institutional transparency took place as she fought to defend her trans-woman rights alongside. She also reveals her challenging childhood, the struggles she went through as an adolescent, the reasons for joining the military, as well as the pride that she took in her work. Manning also describes how and why she decided to share classified military documents with WikiLeaks. This powerful and observant memoir is sure to stand out as a definitive testament to today’s digital age.

Expected to Release in May 2021

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

*Owing to the current global situation, the release dates may change. But these books would definitely be available through various other online mediums. Stay Home, Stay Safe, and keep reading lots of books. For more such brilliant listings do not forget to visit Book Art – The One-Stop book blog for all the latest bookish information.

Girl Made of Gold by Gitanjali Kolanad

The debut novel of Bharatnatyam dancer, Gitanjali Kolanad is one of the most gripping thrillers I have read lately. The story starts off with a hunter finding a dead corpse near the jungle overlooking a holy village-temple. This is where the unputdownable story of a young Devadasi girl- Kanak starts unfolding.  Kolanad’s expertise in dance widens the scope of descriptive storytelling throughout the book where the narrators at length describe the temple and the village, their facets, the hidden symbolism, and of course their life. The story progresses through the narration of its main characters and traces the cause of the disappearance of young Kanak coupled with the mysterious appearance of a golden statue that looks exactly like her. Girl Made of Gold highlights the Devadasi culture at its peak; and how young girls are betrothed to God and lead a life pleasing men.  But sometimes, some things go wrong. . . . . . or right!

The story progresses as each character connected to Kanak mulls over her disappearance.  Subbu, the young nephew of the village priest is set to find his lost friend; the village priest tries to leverage the situation by turning it into a tourist attraction; Vallabendran, the seat of the aristocracy of the village, is believed to have been after Kanak and win her as his latest possession, shows indifference; and Ratna, Kanak’s elder sister with whom her relations are sour is engulfed in her own world to care any less for her.  A spectrum of characters has been introduced by Kolanad throughout the course of the novel and they have something to hide, which might contribute to her disappearance.

The novel brings to the forefront the ritual of Devadasi which has been traced predominantly in the Temple states of Southern India where a girl is married off to a God and is expected to lead a life of celibacy attending to the temple rituals and excelling in performing arts. However, with time, the ritual has seen many transformations and in some parts, it is being misused as a form of sex-slavery under the garb of a ritual. It is admirable that even in the 21st century, people take to such rituals whole-heartedly or forcibly and make the decisions for young girls. Of late, various criminal activities have also gotten intertwined with the practice of forced Devadasi bringing it under the radar of Human Rights. It makes the readers wonder if a girl really wants to live the life of a celibate?  Does she really want to be seen as the wife of a God? And what about pleasing men as it is considered that every man is a part of God and in doing so; she pleases her husband-God? With the ritual being the central plot of the story, the author compels the readers to think closely about it and yet does not define the moral grounds for the same.

Girl Made of Gold beautifully portrays female characters- their strengths, desires, and follies. It also highlights the way society looks at women. Kanak, talented, and attractive has only desired true love. But the world sees her as nothing more than a Devadasi, one who is meant to serve the Gods and men. Ratna lives the life of the ‘other woman’ as she is given away to Vallabendran, despite him being married. Devyani, the wife of Vallabendran is a dutiful wife and daughter-in-law, who knows of her husband’s illustrious nature and yet keeps quiet all through, serving him. Nagaveni, the matriarch of the Devadasi household holds true to the tradition without understanding how cruel she is to her girls. However, if she has been pushed towards this deep endless well of satisfying others from a young age; she finds it nothing wrong in choosing the same path for her girls.

Kolanad further talks about the innate nature of men and women.  The deepest desire of a man or a woman’s heart is to desire human company. To turn it into friendship, love, care, or lust is the decision of the individual. Kanak, in her life experienced friendship and care from her friend, love from her admirer, and lust from the greedy vultures in the society. Only Kanak’s choice and to some extent her fate makes the decision for her. But the most important point put forward here is that all individuals- men or women- have a choice; it is only a matter of time, their values, and their feelings that lead them to choose one or the other.

The inherent idea of superstition which is most prevalent in the rural communities takes shape firmly in the story. The sudden presence of a golden statue where the village folks were expecting Kanak to be, elevates her status; similar to real-life reportage of idols drinking milk in India which had surfaced a few years ago. Faith and belief are gifts to humanity, but there also exists a fine line between them and superstitions and irrationality. While many would instill faith in irrationality, others may pounce on the opportune moment to take advantage of it, just like the village priest did to lift his position and that of the village, ensuring enough donations from the arriving tourists.

Kolanad has brilliantly depicted the rural life, its nuances, and most importantly the depths of human relations through Girl Made of Gold. It is indeed a page-turner and every page comes with new revelations that are bound to leave the readers wanting for more. The complex web of relationship, intertwined within the members of the Devadasi community, the villagers and the aristocratic household has been kept intact, all the while progressing with the mystery of Kanak’s disappearance.

Girl Made of Gold is definitely a recommendation if you are searching for a good book to read, explore, or love the thriller genre and Indian writing. And I’ m sure you would finish the book and take time to contemplate its brilliance for a while. Indeed a thriller such as this is rare to find and one must not miss the opportunity to grab it FREE from the Juggernaut App. I personally hope that it hits the bookstores soon as paper/ hardback too.

No. of Pages: 256

Publisher: Juggernaut Books 

Available: Juggernaut App

Rating: 4/5

Kadambari Devi’s Suicide Note: A passionate memory of Love and Loss

It is strange that I started reading Kadambari Devi’s Suicide Note while one of the most terrible cyclones that West Bengal has ever seen was brewing outside. Post finishing it, I felt that nothing could have been more apt a time to read the book, for a violent storm in the heart of a woman is nothing less than the storm outside; only one causes damage to a select few and the other to far-away lands. Decades went by since the Thakur’s of Jorasankho were on the heights of the aristocratic hierarchy, but the passion that bloomed in the fortress of Nandankanan lives on and would continue to do so every time one would recall the strength of a woman’s love through Kadambari Devi.

Born to a purchase officer of Jorasankho, Kadambari was married off to Jyotirindranath at the age of nine. She found solace only in the writings and company of her young brother-in-law, Rabindranath. Their relationship matured over the years through friendship, banters, jealousy, affection, care, and love. But do all those who love ultimately reach the end? I talk of a woman neglected since childhood, married off at a time when children are supposed to enjoy their childhood, overlooked by her husband, insulted by the members of the Thakur family for her lowly status; and yet who overcame the obstacles and became a strong icon in history, for she had the compassion that most people lacked.

Kadambari Devi’s Suicide Note is not just her life-story, nor does it border only around her relation with Rabindranath.  It talks about the entire family where ‘all are starved of love and caress, in the Tagore household.’  Rabindranath and Kadambari had much in common – age, liking towards literature, and broad intellectual mind. They had the freedom to discuss with each other what they could not with other members of the household. But, an unbearable distance seemed to have crept into this blooming relation once Rabindranath got married, a distance so unbearable that it leads to dire consequences. The Note shows the members of the Thakur family in a different light. A conservative family with a powerful and feared patriarch where women were mostly subdued. In fact, the blossoming friendship between Robi and Kadambari became the talk of the mansion to such an extent that the decision was taken to marry off Robi quickly, and the responsibility given to his Kadambari- an order which stung her heart. For Tagore did pen down ‘Take your leave from here, O Olden days, For a new game that has now begun’.

Her story delves back and forth with numerous instances and memories. These memories show subtle care, love, and longing; something which was considered taboo in those days. A passion described through the nuances of Baishnob Padabali, the act of love through the eyes of Radha-Krishna of Indian mythology.  One can in fact draw parallels between the two stories- both couples found love and respect in their incomplete unison which formed the basis of redefining love for generations.

Through Kadambari, one can get a sense of vastness almost like that of empty space filled up with loneliness. Often times while reading the book, my mind searched for an answer if she was the inspiration behind Tagore’s Nastanirh (the inspiration behind Ray’s Charulata), after all, the situation in both the cases were uncannily similar- that of a wife being drawn to her brother-in-law due to neglect from her husband. The want to belong, the right to be accepted, and the want to be loved and give love which Kadambari could never get in her life seemed to be aptly reflected through Charulata’s story years later.

It is not an unknown fact that Kadambari Devi committed suicide, which was masterfully hidden by the house patriarch. But today, there are legends about her death. Some say her room once locked post her death has never been opened to date. Some say they can still hear a female voice singing in the Thakurbari or that of footsteps along the corridors. Many such stories have reached my ears too. I do not know because I never felt anything amiss and I do not want to remember her as a weak deranged woman who ended up her life because of neglect. I would like to remember her as a strong woman who developed feelings despite taboo for one man and wanted to preserve those memories in her heart till her last breath. She wanted to stay true to her love even though she understood that post-Robi’s marriage things would not be the same anymore. He would obviously be closer to his wife as was the norm and she, as I see it, thought it best for the relation and her life to end with sweet memories of her beloved captured in her heart and mind forever. After all,  through theatre, she did say ‘This world, the sun, and the moon are my witnesses, you are my husband and I would repeat a million times that I am your wife.’

The much-debated note lays bare her story through her eyes for the world to read and listen to. One can also contemplate how Tagore’s literary works had such feisty and progressive female characters in tragic circumstances. From Chitrangada (Chitrangada) to Binodini (Chokher Bali), from Giribala (Maanbhanjan) to Mrinmayi (Samapti) and many more seemed to be the reflections of the strength, determination, courage, and passion professed by his once-beloved Notun Bouthan? Did he find a way to immortalize her traits through his pen? Did he keep her alive through his works decades after she died?

Kadambari Devi’s Suicide Note by Ranjan Bandhopadhyay is one of the bestsellers of Bengali literature published by Patra Bharati. It has been recently translated into English by Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey. Both the books are available online and once we go back to good old days,  in the bookstores.

Publisher: Bee Books (English)

English version: Available on Flipkart / Amazon

Bengali version (through Patra Bharati): Available on Flipkart / Amazon

P.S, If you have read the book, do tell me if you had visualized Konkona Sen Sharma as Kadambari and Parambrata Chatterjee as Robi, even if for a minute in your mind’s eye?

Some Perumal Murugan Shorts Please!

With the stay-at-home routine becoming the new norm one has a whole new array of activities- work from home, household chores, reading new books, learning a new course, trying out a new hobby and spending time with family and pets that have been shelved off for too long, do add to the list if you have more activities in mind. For me, it has been mostly been catching up on my reading habits and with Juggernaut making its entire catalog freely accessible, I didn’t have to look too far, so I #ReadInstead. Being a fan of short stories, my first preference was to download a few by Perumal Murugan, one of my favorite authors. Having previously read his novels like One Part Woman, Poonachi, and others; I was keen to read his shorts. In this post, I talk about five of his short stories which I read and liked, you can find more in the short stories compilation called The Goat Thief.

The Well  – Who could have thought that something as simple as a well can give so much joy to people- the young and the old. When three children invite a man to take a swim with them in the nearby well, it does not strike him that the experience will be unforgettable. One just needs to be courageous enough to take the leap of faith. Once that is accomplished, the vast expanse of the well is their playground. The cold water caresses the body providing relief from the scorching sun complemented by the occasional cool breeze. The isolation of the well from the rest of the world gives the much-needed seclusion that one longs for. BUT, sometimes a well has a mind of its own. ‘In fact, it is the well’s trickery. Its invitation to step in. If a man visits once, the well casts a spell that goads him to return again and again.’ (translated from Neer Vilayattu by N. Kalyan Raman)

Ask for the Moon- When an otherwise quiet and content child starts wailing one night, it brings thick lines of worry on the faces of the family. Is it a bad dream? Is the child thirsty or hungry? Has the child been possessed by some evil spirit? Does the child need medical attention? But when two gibberish words come out from the mouth amidst the loud wailings, the family leaves no stones unturned to identify and present the child with what it was looking for. A very relatable story which shows that parents are willing to go to any extent in order to fulfill wishes and to see that their child is having a comfortable life. It is only a matter of time to see whether such an attitude spoils the child or makes him/ her understand the worth of parents and respect them even more. (translated from Peridhinum Peridhu)

Sanctuary- It is said that a child inside an individual never dies no matter how old he/she grows. When a middle-aged man returns to his native village and finds his old friends are either entwined in the shackles of marriage or have become intellectual beings, he tries to find solace in locating a group of children playing in the well and befriending them. His ‘primary motive must have been to win back my childhood’ but transcending the age barrier especially when it means to join those who are younger is no less a challenge in itself. What is physically possible by children in terms of fluidity and flexibility is impossible by the physique of a grown-up man which leads to the existence of a divide- mentally and physically. Moreover, children often prefer to be more attached to those within the same age –group. Will they accept an older man among them? Will the knots of worldliness be undone?  Will childhood overtake the persona of the man? Sanctuary is a story of letting go of the inner fear, shame, stigma, and prejudice to be able to complete ones transgression through age. (translated from Pugalidam by N.Kalyan Raman)

The Man Who Could Not Sleep- Muthu Pattar is a man famous for his sleep patterns. Going straight to sleep after a hard day’s work and waking up exactly when he wants to is his forte. But what happens when he suddenly starts showing signs of sleeplessness? Is it the village demon who has taken hold of him? Is he diagnosed with terrible insomnia? Is something in his unconscious mind worrying him that he has had to let go of his peaceful sleep? A simple story of how one man’s anxieties take hold of him and those around showing beautifully that sometimes problems are not only of those who are facing them but also for their dear ones. (translated from Kombai Chuvar by N. Kalyan Raman)

The Unexpected Visitor- The elders usually find a daily routine for themselves in the peacefulness of the village. They garner respect but are also victims of banters from the local men and women folk. Such is the daily life of Paati, till her granddaughter leaves her son Kunju with her. This changes the way she has been living alone for years and makes her adapt to all the changes that would ensure Kunju to have a comfortable life in the village. She starts making new dishes for him, worrying if he gets late while playing with his newfound friends, and tries to give him everything that he wants that makes him happy. It is almost as if she has a new objective in life. But with old age comes an enormous amount of self –doubt especially when it comes to taking the responsibility of a child. Will Paati ultimately be able to manage this responsibility or will self-doubt take the better of her? (translated from Veppenei Kalayam)

Murugan’s short stories reflect the simple village life but if you read between the lines of the instances, they are not –so –simple. Each story is bound to take you on a contemplating spree about life and the way we choose to live it. There are several other short stories by Murugan and you can read them in the compilation available on Flipkart, Amazon, and Juggernaut App.

So, Keep Reading until next time!

little grey lies by Hédi Kaddour

little grey lies by Hédi Kaddour bares the lies in which an individual entangles oneself in order to please the society. The storyline is simplistic. Max, a journalist meets Lena, his singer friend (read ex-beloved) in London, gets intrigued by the Battle of Mons and its veteran Colonel Strether, and starts regularly meeting him for an interesting story. Kaddour must be credited for having kept the narration simple and yet filling it in with layers of intellect and self-reflection within the lines. At times, it compels the readers to keep wondering how many lies they really come face to face with each day.

The story distinctly talks about finding one’s identity in the world. One tends to build an identity devoid of happiness and contentment for showing to the world. Lena is prone to daydreaming about a happy blissful life with her partner, which otherwise is not so happy. She tries to raise her voice in an attempt to make her opinions matter but soon tends to lose most arguments and agrees to what her partner says in order to keep him happy while lying to herself all along. Max on the other hands frequently meets Lena trying to gauge if she still has any feelings left for him. He hopes that one day they might see the world together.

Through Lena, the author shows how women are made to compromise quite so often for society and in the name of it. She understands very well that the relationship will neither last long nor have any future, but still holds onto her bondage. It is mostly because she creates a shell of false protection and hierarchy amongst her peers through her relationship. One slight mistake and her entire image will crumble down. It is not that she does not try to break free, but what stops her is the fact that it is easier to think of breaking away but difficult to accept it once done. This questions the rationality of binding oneself despite knowing the ultimate outcome. However, if she succeeds, not only will she have a happier life but also imbibe the truth that women are capable of living without support.

The era in which the story is set in plays a crucial part in shaping the mindset of the characters. London in the 1930s is completely in the garbs of patriarchy and male monotony in society. Women are not allowed to leave their homes or linger around post evening unless they are in the company of men. Forgetting the existing pay difference in the daily wages, women holding important positions in the office are ordered to vacate their seats for the war-returned heroes. They are also subjected to mental torture living with their husbands/ sons/ partners who often develop PTSD. These are clear indications that women are not allowed to have a voice of their own. That is why even Lena is almost always seen in the company of either Max or her partner. It reflects the kind of world where women’s individuality is a complete lie. But the twist in this tale comes when Max and Lena meet a stranger who is courageous enough to defy these patriarchal rules and carve out a path of existence. In a society that swears by the strict rules of conduct for women, someone dares to defy them and mingle with the society bluffing them every single time. It is actually quite shameful to see that individuals need to take such drastic steps to carve an identity for themselves.

To be honest, though the book talks of the 1930s, readers can openly relate to the scenario today and still find that nothing has majorly changed. Individuals still fight for their choices, their existence, their right to live the way they want to, and for society to accept their truth. But what has changed is that people are more accommodating towards accepting facts rather than building castles of lies around them like yesteryears. Even if they do build alternate identities for themselves, it is remarkable to see how true they appear to be and how slowly they become the truth for the individual and for the society. Hence, they become ‘grey lies’ – neither the truth and nor a complete bluff.

The novel speaks of the on-going struggles within oneself and with the society to establish an individual’s identity. Many succeed in the long-drawn and emotionally draining fight. Many succumb and continue living far from the truth in a life of little grey lies.

No of pages: 176

Publisher: Seagull Books

Available on: Amazon/ Flipkart/ Seagull Bookstore

Yours Truly has also recently been featured as one of the Top 100 Indian Book Review Blogs and Websites by Feedspot. You can check out the article here.

Sesher Kobita: Rabindranath Tagore

One banked on her sacrifice, and the other wanted her love!

My first exposure to Tagore’s Sesher Kobita was during a discussion by veteran actor Soumitra Chatterjee. But picking up bits and pieces of the story did not really help much, given that I have been hearing it’s a great narration. It was only last week that I finally completed reading the book and what would be a better time than on the occasion of Rabindra Jayanti to put forward my views of it.

Sesher Kobita literally translates to The Last Poem and definitely, the story has a loud poetic touch to it while circling around the lives of Labanyalata and Amit. Amit is the quintessential bhodrolok of Calcutta, apparently enmeshed in literature and poetry; so much so, that the readers often get glimpses of his alter ego- Nibaran Chakraborty. Labanya, on the other hand, is practical, ambitious, and even competitive on several levels, though working as a Governess has mellowed her.  She has always shunned the existence of love in her life and even shoos away the one man who has dearly loved her. Nevertheless, a sudden car collision on the slopes of Shillong introduces Amit and Labanya to each other where the former gets smitten by the latter and even musters up the courage to propose to her a few months later.

It is this proposal from whence the actual story starts.  The practical nature of Labanya poses questions to Amit which are both deeply intellectual and highly relevant. For a person like Amit who is always riding on the clouds with his thoughts, it will be sooner than later that Labanya’s mind and actions will fall short; and he will leave her far behind with his intellectual superiority.  One can question here, whether she is really being practical or hiding her insecurities in the garb of Amit’s colorful nature. Going a step ahead and metaphorically using history to continue her point, she relates that ‘To realize his [Shah Jahan] dream, her [ Mumtaz] death was necessary’; or else why will Shah Jahan take pride in a mausoleum of his lover’s death and become internationally famous? This reflects a stark understanding and hatred towards patriarchy and gender inequality through Labanya’s eyes.

Creativity and Preservation have been cleverly merged into the narration of Sesher Kobita. While Amit is creative and does not lose a chance to display the same; Labanya is quiet, conservative, and preserves moments, memories, and life. An interesting explanation given by Tagore here is that Creativity and Preservation cannot complement each other because of their functional nature. To Create is to destroy, rebuild, and renew what is preserved; and to Preserve one needs to stop creatively building upon what exists. So it can well mean that to unite, both Amit and Labanya or at least one of them has to give up their individuality. But is it worth it?

Trust forms the basis of any relationship and even if an iota of doubt creeps in; it is powerful enough to break the relation. Much that Amit loves Labanya, but her recitation of her ex-lover’s words definitely leaves a cringe in Amit’s mind. It leads him to doubt the relationship that he is aiming for. He too starts thinking practically that it is very easy to please one’s partner through mellifluous words and creative imagery during courtship, but once a union stands true both the individuals have to come together as a whole by sacrificing parts of their individuality to accept the other.

Much that we say that marriage is a union of two souls, one cannot disperse the fact blatantly that family has an important role in it. Amit belongs to the so-called elite class of Calcutta whose life is engulfed by the literary circles and social gatherings, while Labanya belongs to the scholarly middle class. Her meeting with Amit’s family renews the latent self-doubts about the unison that she has borne within herself. This along with a letter from her ex-lover gives the storyline an interesting direction.

Will Labanya re-establish connections with her ex-lover? Will she accept her relationship with Amit devoid of doubts? Will Amit’s family approve of Labanya whom they look down upon as a mere-Governess? Reading this poetic narration will give you your answers. Looking closely at the story you will find that Labanya in her quiet demeanor is the perfect rebel to the societal standards of yesteryears, quite similar to Tagore’s other leading ladies. Her questioning the unquestioned and taken-for-granted norms of patriarchy raises pertinent questions in the minds of the readers as to what will be the definition of a perfect union and how can it be achieved whole-heartedly.

I would suggest if you can read Bangla please read the original text.  Should you want to read translations like I did, the details are mentioned below.

No. of Pages: 211

Publisher: Rupa

Available on: Amazon

Translated from: Sesher Kobita by Rabindranath Tagore

Translated by Anindita Mukhopadhyay

 

Barff- Saurabh Shukla

Set amidst a scenic yet deserted village in the valleys of Kashmir, Barff is a story of one extraordinary night where a doctor, Dr. Kaul, is requested and fetched from the city to look into the health problems of Gulam Rasul’s son, Jigra. Gulam lives in this secluded village with his wife, Nafisa, and their only son. As it is difficult to get any amenities where they live, the Doctor was indeed a God-sent miracle.

Rasul from the very beginning is portrayed as a mysterious man. His words at times hold no meaning to an educated and practical country-doctor. But then will words like (translated to English) ‘no one else lives in the village’ or ‘ Nafisa and I light the lamps of all the houses of the village so that it seems it is inhabited’ make any sense to anybody? As the mystery builds up, the Doctor and Rasul make it to the latter’s house and meets his wife Nafisa and son- Jigra. What transpires next is impossible to comprehend or understand by practical minds.

Barff, originally written and performed as a play has been recently given the form of a book. This play by the renowned actor Saurabh Shukla is a cult thriller in the Hindi language. Thriller, it is believed is a very tricky genre. It takes a lot of hard-work in penning down a perfect thriller to appease the audience.  Furthermore, this is a genre definitely less explored in Hindi language or literature, especially in contemporary times. What is most interesting is that the author does not kill anyone to build up the atmosphere. Rather it has been very subtly done through the dialogues and conjuring up an apt atmosphere.

Rasul and his wife, Nafisa share a bickering yet loving bond as husband and wife. Rasul’s love for his wife is quite visible through his actions as often he ends up doing things which he knows at heart are wrong.  He gives Nafisa the independence to think and believe in what she wants to. The freedom of thought is indeed quite overpowering as one can feel as the story progresses.

Shukla touches on the themes of mental health and alternate reality through the play. The effect of mental health is portrayed not as much as on the person suffering through trauma but mostly on those surrounding them.  Post-reading the entire play what remains with me is the line (translated to English) – Reality is based on beliefs without which reality alone has no meaning. This definitely is food for thought. The idea of what is the reality in its truest sense has been beautifully explained in the story. Is reality always perceived literally in what is in front of a person; but then do people not have the right to choose what they want to literally see and therefore make their own world out of it? Further, he goes on to explore who decides the ultimate truth for a person – that individual or the onlookers; and if it is indeed the onlookers then who gives them the right to decide on someone else’s reality.

Barff connects with the readers on various intellectual levels. A simple mysterious atmosphere and a story of just one night elaborate some pertinent and yet unasked questions of life. What remains with the readers are not the characters, but the simplicity with which these complicated situations have been portrayed.  It also compels one to contemplate as to what is the way of life that one has been leading so far. In the literal sense, Barff translates to ice. Cold and freezing ice sets shivers up your spine once you touch it, just like the atmosphere of the story. Ice is used to heal hurt minds and bodies, just like the way the past of the characters soothe each other’s hurt minds. Moreover, when the ice melts it becomes water, a colorless and odorless shape-shifting liquid much like the way our thoughts never stay at one place and our ideas keep changing rapidly, molding itself with the situation in hand.

It is not every day that one reads a thriller, so aptly put, which explores the cultural milieu of Kashmir, gives food for thought, breaks the monotony with its perfect comic timing, and also highlights the effects of a war-torn state on its residents.  Although the book is in Hindi, it is worth a read. Shukla’s brilliance in the industry for decades has culminated into this wonderful script which definitely leaves a mark on the readers and compels them to visualize the world through renewed energy, understanding, and knowledge.

No. of Pages: 94

Publisher:  Rajkamal Prakashan

Available on: Flipkart/ Amazon

Rating: 4/5

Being Reshma: Reshma Qureshi with Tania Singh

‘I have later wondered if I should have slept in for those five extra minutes, worn my new burqa, stayed back with my mother, turned around for my cell phone, stopped and bought those shoes, or haggled over an apple.’

It is said that each second counts, and so it did for Reshma. But when you overcome tragedy, depression, self-consciousness, and make progress in the world that is the true win for an individual and a slap-on-the-face for the culprits.

Being Reshma is the story of the transformation of the girl-next-door to an International Icon, full of inspiration, courage, and emotion. The story begins on an uneventful day while Reshma is going to school. A long pent up angst and vengeance of her oldest brother-in-law along with his comrades burns the course of her normal life by throwing acid on her face.  From then on it is an arduous journey to which at times there seems to be no silver lining. Hospitals, surgeons, medical practitioners, operations, and therapies swallow the life of a young girl. But it is her will to survive and determination to get back even stronger so that she can make a statement in the society which holds her through the depressing times. She understands the loyalty of people surrounding her in times of need and thus apart from her family which stands as a rock behind her, Ria Sharma enters her life as a savior. The Founder of Make Love Not Scars not only helps crowdfund for her treatments and get the best surgeon to operate on her but also makes her the face of her start-up and their friendship grows stronger by the day.

Coming from a community that is conservative and strictly demarcates between the sons and daughters of the family, Reshma has seen her elder sister Gulshan, dropping out of school to take care of the family during her mother’s critical illness. Soon after, she is married off to a family that tortures and overburdens her with chores and into a relationship that chokes her of independence and happiness. Tired of domestic violence and mental torture, Gulshan’s decision to come out of a disastrous marriage and live with her parents is a bold one. But the anger and will to avenge such a strong decision taken by a woman, who is considered lowly in the community, lead to the tragedy thereafter. It is not sure if the acid is really meant for Reshma but it surely makes the impact that satisfies the avengers.

Being Reshma is a reflection of the good and bad aspects of power and humanity on many levels. It is a fact that people choose to openly ignore dire situations and walk past. Such social ignorance is widespread in this country and it pains to see that it wins over humanity in most cases. The lackadaisical behavior of the state civil force (at times) leads to wastage of time and leads to more damage, in this case, to life than is thinkable. Politics is synonymous with power and sometimes it helps those in need to get work done quickly overruling institutional protocols after all a human life cannot be above protocols! And at times, renowned and powerful medical practitioners take advantage of their ‘cases’ to gain visibility and fame. Even though doctors are held in high esteem, such spineless doctors need to be called out for playing with the lives and sensitiveness of their patients. The book gives a glimpse of all the above factors which take Reshma’s journey forward through ups and downs.

For a young girl who dreams of a certain future to be suffering for factors beyond her control strikes a chord with the readers. The auto-biography openly talks about the emotional impact of an acid-attack survivor. The primary feeling is of anger on fate and on the people for having destroyed an innocent life. The pent up anguish, anxiety, and blame come up to the lips once in a while. Apart from this, she deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which leads her to contemplate and attempt suicide. But the most important part of the emotional journey is to accept the ‘new you’.  Though terrified at first Reshma eventually learns to accept herself and carries herself with confidence and poise. Unfortunately, society is definitely such that stigma remains and it cannot be completely undone. But acceptance helps in reducing the impact of this stigma on an individual.

While part of Reshma’s journey is about recovering from her past, a  turning point in her life is also her friendship and involvement with Ria Sharma and her start-up Make Love Not Scars. Ria can best be described as Reshma’s friend, philosopher, and guide who relentlessly helps her heal and ultimately transform into an Indian model and vlogger and an International Anti Acid-Sale Activist. The journey starts from crowdfunding for her operations and medical treatments to become the face of the NGO through a Youtube #EndAcidSale campaign and ultimately being the only Acid – Attack survivor to walk the ramp with International Celebrities in The New York Fashion Week. Her endeavor to help other acid attack survivors are still going strong and has helped many other victims overcome the tragedy by having someone beside them who understand the pain that they are going through.

Make Love Not Scars is an NGO whose ‘mission is to provide dignity and independence to acid attack survivors through medical, legal, educational, vocational, and psychological rehabilitation.’ If you want to make a difference to another life then you should definitely visit the website and see how best you can contribute to the cause.

Being Reshma should definitely feature on your reading list if you have not yet read it; simply to know about the courageous journey of two young girls -Reshma and Ria, who went on to inspire thousands around the world.

No. of Pages: 258

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Available on:Amazon/ Flipkart / Snapdeal

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstad, observes the day to day progress in the life of Sultan Khan – a bookseller in Kabul- and pens the nuances in The Bookseller of Kabul. Sultan, a dignified and righteous man owns a bookshop and fights to keep it running amidst a country torn by wars and political coups. His dream is to make resources available to every individual in the country-, especially for school-going children. What is appalling is the contrast of liberalism of sharing knowledge and the rules of staunch patriarchy displayed by Sultan. Through Sultan’s family, relations and their life, Seierstad puts forward the daily life of an Afghani individual, be it a man or a woman.

With Sultan being the strict disciplinarian and the perfect personification of the family patriarch, his family members follow his orders not by choice but by fear. His eldest son Mansur is forced to run his bookshop and other errands but wants to break free and complete his education. While his second son Eqbal, also dreams of going to school one day, his youngest, Aimul hasn’t even seen what a school looks like. It is indeed a paradox that a man who dreams of providing education to all children removes his own from schools prematurely. His sister’s marriage is a hurried giving away of an ‘object’ stored for too long at home. His mother is an institution of contemplation, living more in the past, than in the present. His youngest sister, Leila is a hard-working, unmarried, young girl who dreams of breaking the shackles of bondage and escaping someday for her own good. The narrative builds on these characters and takes the story forward.

The Bookseller of Kabul is a portal to a culture torn by politics and ruled over by men, almost untouched by modernity and equality in any form. Sultan, having been married for years and fathering three children with his first wife, goes out in search of his second wife. Every eligible daughter’s parents only want to give in to his demand and marry off their young girl despite a difference of several years because they want to gain a higher footing in the Afghan society by marrying off their daughter to a respected man. Sultan’s second wife ‘was petrified, paralysed by fear. She did not want the man but she knew she had to obey her parents. As Sultan’s wife her standing in Afghan society would go up considerably. The bride money would solve many of her family’s problems. The money would help her parents buy good wives for their sons.’  It is interesting to notice how brides are ‘bought’ almost as if buying clothes in the market- if one is worn out after a couple of years, get a new one! Love is a taboo with dire consequences like forced marriages, honour-killing, and even suicide. These pent up feelings of women which they are unable to put forth in the society often find their way into poems –‘Give me your hand, my loved one and we will hide in the meadow, To love or fall down beneath the knife stabs’.

The footing of a woman in  Afghan society is as good as being absent. In the male-heavy atmosphere, the voice of a lowly woman often gets lost. Such is the situation with Sultan’s youngest sister- Leila- who ‘often repeats herself, because she thinks she is not being heard’.  Following the storyline, it is quite obvious that the men of the family were applauded for the little things that they do and ‘the Khan family is not in the habit of celebrating women’.  Leila’s existence reflects the condition of thousands of women in a country where there exists no female individuality. They are only known to the society and the world as a shadow of ‘their men’.

While women have no voice of their own, men on the other hand, have both voice and domination that start from a very young age. Sultan’s eldest Mansur had been witness to his friend’s temptations at his own shop. Filled with guilt, he decides to make the arduous journey to Mazhar-e-Sharif to pray and beg for forgiveness. The description of the journey gives a respite to the readers as they can imagine the serene mountains and terrains of the country and not wonder at the ruthlessness of the people living in it. A shrine for contemplation, self-assessment, and pilgrimage becomes so beautiful a place to travel to, that Mansur gets engrossed in its pleasure and awe; and forgets the primary motive that brought him there. What gives him sleepless nights at first, gradually disappears from his mind altogether and a sin remains unacknowledged.

Sins and crimes are committed very often in Afghanistan. The socio-political condition, the rising poverty level, and an economy which will take years to recover, often lead men from poverty-stricken backgrounds to commit crimes such as theft, murder, or suicide. If caught, the penalty is also massive! But one needs to ponder as to who is to be blamed for the situation. And when someone tries to steal from Sultan, the consequences are disastrous for the criminal and his innocent family!

Hard-hitting, eye-opening and full of nuances of the Afghani culture, The Bookseller of Kabul is a picture of paradoxes between liberalism and patriarchy shown through the relation that Sultan shares with his family. A portrait of dominance over women, relationship, and poor; and of temptations over ethics, this book is a good read.

No. of Pages: 276

Publisher: Virago Press, Hachette UK

Availability: Amazon/ Flipkart

Rating: 3.5/5